Charcoal grills are known for the smoky flavour that burning coals gives food that’s cooked on it. However, simply trying to grill can be a pain, especially when nothing you do makes the coals light up. You can’t grill anything if you don’t have any lit coals, so you end up heading back disappointed and even irritated.
Many different reasons can cause this to happen, so there are just as many ways to fix them, too. This article covers everything you’ll need to figure out why you’re having a hard time lighting your charcoal grill and keeping it lit as well as many possible solutions. And, if you need a new bag of charcoal, a new Kamado Joe charcoal grill, or even a new accessory for it, you can also check out this catalogue.
Table of Contents
Your charcoal is unevenly sized
When it comes to the kinds of charcoal you can use for your grill, you have a much larger selection available than you might realize at first. But while you have quite a lot of options, the debate about which is the best for barbecuing comes down to two; lump charcoal vs. charcoal briquettes.
All the briquettes you get are shaped to be the same sizes throughout due to how they’re made. But if you use lump charcoal instead, you might find that their sizes vary greatly between each piece. Lump charcoal is known to burn faster and hotter than briquettes. This can lead to some of your charcoal lighting and burning up far faster than the others can light.
Your charcoal is too damp
Due to how charcoal is made, it only takes a bit of moisture to make them harder to light. The individual pieces are porous and far drier than you might think and will pick up any moisture easily. While you can use the damp charcoal, the fire will need to dry out pieces first, often making it look like they aren’t burning.
If you want to avoid this, try taking them out and setting them in the Sun or in a warm spot to dry out first. This only works with lump charcoal and other types that don’t use additives like briquettes, though. The little pillow-shaped charcoal pieces are likely to crumble apart if they absorb any moisture and will need replacing.
You’re using low quality charcoal
The quality of the charcoal can also impact how they light up and how long they stay lit. Most forms of charcoal have a certain carbon content that allows them to burn properly. Low quality charcoal often has a much lower carbon content – around 50 percent or so – to be made and sold for lower prices. This is often a big reason that you’re having a harder time lighting and keeping your grill lit.
Grilling is a time to splurge a little, and charcoal is the one place where you shouldn’t buy too cheap. You don’t need to buy any fancy, high-quality briquettes or top-of-the-line lump charcoal, but avoid the cheapest coal too. Aim for charcoal that’s a few dollars more than the cheapest but still within the budget you have.
The grill is unclean and too ashy
One possible reason that your grill isn’t lighting properly and staying lit is due to how dirty it is. If you keep letting grease build up on the grill’s grate, it can melt and clog up the vents. This ends up restricting the airflow into and out of your grill and stifles the flames. In some cases, the grease can even dampen what little fire your coal does make.
Depending on what charcoal you use, the ash that’s left behind can also make it harder to light coals later on. The ash can block up the vents at the bottom, much like any lingering grease can. If left alone outdoors for a long enough time, the ash can also absorb moisture and form a paste, causing any paper and coals there to become damp too.
So make sure to regularly clean your charcoal grill, both the bowl and the grates. You don’t need to do it after every single session but aim to do it at least every other session and frequently if you cook fattier meat. Deep cleaning of the grates and cleaning the vents can also help make lighting the coal easier.
Your grill’s vents aren’t opened fully
Much like how a clogged vent can reduce the amount of oxygen coming into your grill, a partially opened vent can negatively affect how your coals light and stay lit. While the flames do use the coal to keep burning, the amount of air it gets is what keeps it burning. When there isn’t enough air in the grill or if it uses it all, the fire will go out regardless of how many coals you have.
This is why barbecuers and experts will only close their charcoal grill’s vents a little to lower the temperature and keep them fully open the rest of the time. If your coal isn’t staying lit whenever you close the lid, check to make sure the vents are opened up completely and try lighting them again. When you’re done grilling, close the vents.
If nothing seems to be helping your coal’s light, these are the most likely reasons that you’re having issues. Even good, high-quality charcoal can take anywhere between a few seconds to half a minute to light up properly, so it’s important to be patient as well. If it still takes a longer time than seems right, you can also get a few accessories to help. Many barbecuers often use pieces of scrap paper, a charcoal chimney or even a combination of both to light their coal faster.
Ultimately, it’s important to avoid getting the cheapest coal and accessories available. While they don’t make massive dents in how much money you have, the quality can often do more harm. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more than your budget, and your barbecue will definitely cooperate with you!